Making breastfeeding easier: Our personal experience
Northern Ireland has among the worst breastfeeding rates in the world. Experts recommend babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their lives, yet according to one study, more than one in 10 women here leave hospital without ever trying. A group of women are trying to normalise and celebrate breastfeeding with an annual event, Breastival, which takes place on August 4. Lisa Smyth talks to two women about their breastfeeding journey and hears how the right support network can make all the difference.
‘It was easier than bottle feeds and I did feel emotional when I stopped’
Paediatric nurse Deirdre Kelly (32) lives with her husband of four years, John (31), who is a nurse at a Ballymena nursing home, at their home in Ballymena. The couple have 16-month-old triplets, Conor, Ciaran and Cillian. She says:
At my booking scan we were told we were expecting twins and then when I had my appointment with the consultant at 13 weeks, I was told we were expecting triplets. The consultant was looking at the screen and said she had a surprise. We had already decided we didn’t want to know the sex of the babies but she said, ‘No, it’s another surprise’.
It was a massive shock for us and I think it was a shock for the hospital too as they only get about one set of triplets every year.
Before I found out I was pregnant, I hadn’t ever really thought about whether I would breastfeed or not but once we knew I was expecting triplets and they would be born early, I knew I really wanted to give it a go.
Having worked as a children’s nurse, I had spent time in a neonatal unit, so I knew how important breast milk is for premature babies.
I really didn’t know anything about breastfeeding, especially not feeding premature babies or multiples, but once I started looking into it, I found a couple of groups on Facebook and was able to talk to some mummies who had fed twins and triplets.
I also went along to a breastfeeding evening at the hospital and I mentioned to the midwife at outpatients that I wanted to breastfeed. She put me in touch with the breastfeeding co-ordinator, Gillian Anderson, at Antrim Area Hospital.
As I was expecting triplets, my consultant didn’t want me to go into spontaneous labour so they initially said they would try and get me to 24 weeks and then 26 weeks and so on. In the end, I delivered the boys at 32 weeks and four days and it was a lovely, calm experience.
I knew all along that the babies would need to go to neonatal when they were born so it wasn’t too hard not getting to hold them as they were born because it was what I was expecting would happen and I knew it was for the best.
Before they arrived, I had started to express and had managed to get a few drops so John had brought that with us to the hospital and that was taken to the neonatal unit for the boys. They were just given fluids on the first day and didn’t get the milk until that night but at that stage they only really needed a few drops.
A baby’s suck reflex doesn’t kick in until they are 34 weeks so they were tube fed until then.
It was difficult going home at night without my babies, even though I knew they were being well cared for, and then I had to get up every three hours and pump through the night. However, it was once they actually started to feed that I really started to have issues.
It took a while for the boys to learn how to latch on and I had to use nipple shields, which was a bit daunting as you never get to see the issues that can come with breastfeeding.
But Gillian was amazing. I had all sorts of problems, I had cracked nipples, thrush, mastitis, but Gillian was there through it all with support and advice. I don’t think I would have managed it without her. She was very matter-of-fact and on a bad day would always tell me not to give up on a bad day, that kept me going. Maybe it’s because the boys were in hospital, but my emotions were all over the place because I didn’t have my babies at home with me at night and I was up pumping every three hours, but Gillian, John and my mum were all fantastic at keeping me going. My mum had breastfed and was always very much of the opinion that I should give it a go and see how I got on.
We finally got the boys home when they were four weeks old and it was pretty scary not to have the doctors and nurses there to support us. We didn’t tell anyone the first night we got them home as we just wanted that night to ourselves, to get ourselves sorted.
I was quite lucky because the boys had spent four weeks in neonatal and had got into a real wee routine with their feeding.
It goes against every piece of advice you get about breastfeeding but because they were so used to being fed every three hours, I was able to continue with that when they got home.
They did cluster feed in the evening but I normally had someone else there with me, so I would feed two while the other person nursed them or they would be in the rocker and I would rotate them round.
I was very lucky as well because they were very good babies and didn’t really cry for any prolonged period of time, it was almost as though they understood from a very young age that they had to share my time.
When I first started out, my target was to feed them until they got home from hospital and then I decided to see if I could get to three months.
Once I hit three months, I decided to see if I could get to six months and then I really wanted to get to the one year mark so I could get the tick in the little red book, saying I had breastfed for 12 months.
I never really felt uncomfortable about breastfeeding when I was out of the house and I never had any negative comments. If anyone spoke to me it was to ask how many bottles we got through and I would tell them, ‘actually none’ and they would all be amazed that I was feeding them myself.
It was so much easier as well. The thought of getting up in the middle of the night to make bottles of formula wasn’t something I liked the idea of and it was also much handier to just be able to run out the door and not have to pack up a load of sterilised bottles.
Once we got into the swing of things it was much easier and it was quite emotional when the boys stopped feeding. If I ever have another baby, I know I will definitely give breastfeeding another go.”
‘I just couldn’t seem to do it right and there was no one there to help’
Noelle Moore (39) is a stay-at-home mum and lives in Pomeroy with her husband of 18 years, Keith (41), who is a manager at Westland Horticulture, and their daughter, Jody (9). She says:
We went through such a lot to have Jody. We were trying to have a baby for eight years but I had polycystic ovaries and Keith had problems as well.
We tried intrauterine insemination (IUI) and it didn’t work; nothing was working. I ended up having three miscarriages before getting pregnant with Jody. We’d be going back and forward to the doctor and people would say to me ‘at least you know you can get pregnant’. But that was little consolation if I couldn’t carry a pregnancy full-term. We were as good as told we would never have a baby naturally and were just about to start IVF the following week when we found out I was pregnant.
I couldn’t believe it. I’d had my last miscarriage three months before and I actually did five or six pregnancy tests at home to be certain. The doctors kept a really close eye on me throughout the pregnancy, however, because of all the miscarriages. Still, it was so scary and I really couldn’t enjoy the pregnancy. Jody was a very lazy baby and didn’t move much so I would panic all the time.
At my last appointment, they told me that my placenta was too mature and that they would be bringing me in after the weekend to get me started if I hadn’t gone into labour myself by that stage. It turned out to be a really long and difficult labour.
They had to induce me twice and it wasn’t working. I was fully dilated but Jody wasn’t moving. In the end they had to give me an emergency section.
At first, none of the surgeons would do it without me being under a general anaesthetic because I had injured my spine years before in an accident, but I was desperate to be awake when she was born, just to see her and hold her.
I argued with them until they found a surgeon who was willing to let me stay awake. As soon as Jody was born, however, I started to feel really awful and I remember the doctor asking me if I felt all right. Keith was sent out of the room and I was lying there asking if everything was all right. They worked on me for a while and then once I was okay again they brought Jody over and said they had seen in my notes that I wanted to try breastfeeding, so they handed her to me and walked away.
I was still very out of it from everything and was lying there wondering what was I meant to be doing. I just couldn’t seem to do it right. I was so sore from the section and I couldn’t get out of the bed that night to feed her when she was crying.
It was just awful and there was no one there to help, I was getting more and more upset because I couldn’t work out what I was doing wrong. It actually took one wee nurse to tell me that it was better I looked after myself so that I would be able to look after the baby and that in the meantime I should try a bottle.
I did feel that some midwives felt I should have been breastfeeding but when the community midwives visited when we got home they seemed happy that I was bottle feeding. I didn’t care about what people thought when they saw me giving her a bottle when we were out and about, I was more worried about what some family members might say. I was especially worried about my mother-in-law because she is quite old school, but she was supportive of my decision and said I had to do what was right for me.
I still kick myself sometimes that I didn’t breastfeed because I’ve always heard that there is a wonderful bond and I wonder did I miss out on that? I’d ask myself if I’d done something wrong? Why couldn’t I do something that everyone else seems able to do? I felt like a failure.
But then I have to remind myself that I have this amazing, incredible miracle daughter that I never thought I would have — and another positive was that Keith was able to feed her as well.
My husband had felt so helpless when I was pregnant and worrying so much, and then he felt so helpless during my labour, so it was important to him that he was able to do as much as possible once she was born.
We went through so much to get Jody and have been through so much since she arrived. I was diagnosed with postnatal depression after she was born and I have to remind myself that it’s important to look after yourself to be able to look after your baby.
I had wanted a natural birth and I had wanted to give breastfeeding a go but all that went out the window. However, I am lucky to have Jody. In the great scheme of things, not being able to breastfeed wasn’t the end of the world. As well as the postnatal depression, I was also diagnosed with fibromyalgia and ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis), which has been tough, and then last year I had a stroke. My left side is affected from the stroke and I’m really tired all the time, although it is difficult to tell whether that’s from the stroke, the fibromyalgia or the ME.
But I’d be lost without Jody, she really is my little miracle. She helps me in every way. Sometimes I feel awful about that and tell her that she is my child and she shouldn’t have to be looking after me but she tells me she’s happy. For example, I’m always worried about people coming in and seeing the house a mess, but Jody tells me it doesn’t matter, if people don’t like the house because they can always leave.”
Breastival Belfast is a community interest company dedicated to improving support for families who choose to breastfeed. The event at the Ulster Museum on August 4 is open to parents, expectant parents, friends and anyone else interested in finding out more about breastfeeding, and features a range of informative talks, workshops and baby classes. For more information, including how to get tickets, log on to www.breastivalbelfast.co.uk